What Is Ketosis and Is It Healthy for You?

New diet trends are constantly emerging, fueled by inspiring anecdotes, celebrity endorsements, and legions of loyal adherents. But few health fads have had a greater cultural impact than the keto diet, which has set the internet ablaze in recent years. Keto-compliant recipes have proliferated online and major grocery chains now stock keto-centric products. Kourtney Kardashian has even endorsed the diet, sharing keto tips with her countless fans. Intrigued by the buzz, hundreds of thousands of dieters have tried keto for themselves, often showcasing their results on social media.

In part, the keto diet’s appeal stems from the foods it includes: Red meat and cheese are core items and treats like dark chocolate even make the list. With sumptuous foods like this allowed, the diet doesn’t seem too daunting. Moreover, the keto diet permits a wide variety of dishes, so dieters need not fear that their food will be boring or bland.

But the keto diet’s main draw may be the mysterious metabolic process for which it is named: ketosis. Technically, keto is short for “ketogenic,” meaning the diet produces the process of ketosis. For those who swear by the diet, ketosis can seem like an exalted bodily state, generating unparalleled results over relatively short periods.

But what is ketosis really – and what brings it about in the human body? More importantly, is it actually healthy for you, or even safe? If you’re considering the keto diet, these questions are essential concerns. Should you believe the keto buzz or steer clear of this bandwagon? 

In this article, we’ll break down the latest research regarding ketosis, explaining the complex science behind it in clear and simple terms. From there, we’ll discuss the potential health benefits and risks associated with ketosis, allowing you to make an informed decision about trying the keto diet.

Ketosis Basics: What It Is and How It Happens

Ketosis isn’t some transcendent state, attainable only through specialized techniques. Rather, it’s a fairly typical bodily process that occurs when you don’t consume enough carbohydrates to fuel your body’s activity. 

When it runs out of carbs to burn, your body burns fat for energy instead. In this scenario, your liver turns fat into chemicals called ketones, which then enter the bloodstream. Ketones soon reach your muscles and other bodily tissues, supplying the energy you need to function fully.

While no two individuals are exactly alike, ketosis typically begins after a few days of limited carb consumption. For individuals who aren’t pregnant and don’t have diabetes, ketosis usually kicks in after two to four days of eating 20 to 50 grams of carbs. If you fast entirely, ketosis will probably occur even more rapidly.

If you’re accustomed to a high-carb diet, however, the transition to ketosis may take slightly longer because your residual levels of glycogen (an energy-storing substance) will be a bit higher.

To be sure, this description of ketosis is merely a broad overview. Nutritionists and biochemists continue to study the precise mechanisms of ketosis, paying special attention to demographic differences and challenging medical conditions. Many studies, for example, suggest ketosis can effectively treat severe cases of epilepsy.

For the average would-be dieter, however, this basic understanding of ketosis explains the keto diet’s appeal. By cutting out carbs, the theory goes, you’re forcing your body to burn through unwanted fat instead. On this basis, keto proponents claim that ketosis offers excellent weight loss advantages. Similarly, studies show low-carb diets can curb one’s appetite, translating to overall reductions in calorie consumption.

So what does the keto diet require to make ketosis happen?

Keys to the Keto Diet: Eating for Ketosis

balanced fruits, vegetables, and protein

Because severely limiting carbs is the key to entering ketosis, you’ll probably need to kiss some of your favorite foods goodbye on the keto diet. For most dieters, the biggest sacrifices are grain products and starches, including breads, cereals, rice, and corn. Most fruits are out as well, and nearly all sweeteners, such as sugar, are banned. Forget about sodas, fruit juices, and most sweet treats.

On the other hand, tons of tasty items are keto-approved. Fats are a crucial source of energy on the keto diet, so butter and cheeses are encouraged. Avocado is another keto staple rich in healthy fats.

Carnivores will be able to eat their fill as well, with grass-fed beef, fish, and chicken on the keto menu. Eggs, nuts, and seeds help round out the protein offerings. 

While starchy vegetables are firmly discouraged, you can still eat plenty of greens on keto. From broccoli to Brussels sprouts, okra to onions, you’ll have your pick of the produce aisles. 

There are even some surprising keto-sanctioned foods, such as coconut and the aforementioned dark chocolate. Be judicious in your selection, however: Only the super-dark, low sugar varieties will do.

Though these individual food guidelines are helpful, they’re part of a larger goal: Achieving a ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs that will maintain ketosis. Generally, experts say a keto dieter’s total daily calories should be 60% to 80% fat, roughly 20% protein, and 10% or less of carbs. To meet that standard, keto dieters usually consume 20 to 30 grams of carbs per day – a strikingly small quantity. 

Let’s assume for a moment that the demands of this diet seem feasible to you. Before you begin your pursuit of ketosis, you should know whether it’s actually effective – or even healthy – for you.

Is Ketosis Healthy, and Will It Help You Lose Weight?

First, let’s cover the proven and potential benefits of adopting the keto diet and achieving ketosis. After all, many keto advocates have good reason to be enthusiastic: The diet presents exciting possibilities and compelling initial results.

Some studies show that low-carb diets produce remarkable weight loss during the first few months, generating far more impressive results than low-fat diets, for instance. Over longer periods, such as a year, however, low-carb diets seem to lose their edge. Still, if weight loss is one of your major goals, keto can be as effective as other dieting approaches, as long as you maintain it. Additionally, some research indicates the keto diet is particularly good at reducing fat around the abdomen.

Moreover, physicians often recommend the keto diet for individuals with diabetes because it can help them improve their insulin sensitivity. Initial research even suggests that the keto diet could help slow the progression of certain kinds of cancers by starving cancer cells of glucose. The evidence for this hypothesis is still limited, though, and cancer patients often have competing dietary concerns to attend to. 

It’s also true that low-carb diets can help increase so-called “good” cholesterol and reduce “bad” cholesterol levels. This benefit has less to do with ketosis than simply cutting out unhealthy carbs, but it’s a notable keto advantage. And as we mentioned earlier, keto diets are consistently linked to fewer seizures among individuals with epilepsy. 

Despite these possible benefits, however, there are many reasons to think twice before attempting a keto diet. While ketosis isn’t inherently unhealthy, achieving it can take a toll on other aspects of your well-being. 

While adapting to ketosis, many individuals experience symptoms of the “keto flu,” such as dizziness, fatigue, and stomach problems. More serious possible problems include kidney stones or nutritional deficiencies. 

Though not all keto dieters will experience adverse effects, it is possible to make unhealthy eating choices while technically following keto guidelines. Plenty of high-fat foods are just plain bad for you, while some carb-intensive items, such as fruit, are quite healthy in moderation. While on keto, you still have to make smart dietary decisions: You’re just picking from a more limited pool.

The most problematic aspect of keto, though, is that most people can’t follow it for long. Restrictive diets are exceedingly difficult to maintain over extended periods of time. Even if you shed lots of weight while observing keto guidelines, you may be poised to simply gain it back when you inevitably abandon the diet. This unfortunate reality explains why there’s very little evidence that the keto diet produces long-term weight loss. 

In other words, ketosis is only a temporary path to burning fat. Sustainable weight loss diets, by contrast, help you permanently adjust to smaller portions and a wide array of nutritious ingredients.

Diet and Exercise: Dual Priorities

girl running down the stairs

While ketosis is an intriguing biological phenomenon, it may not be your ticket to sustained weight loss. Currently, there’s little evidence of the keto diet’s long-term benefits, and plenty of individuals experience uncomfortable side effects. While you can find plenty of keto success stories online, there’s no guarantee you’ll see similar results. 

Most importantly, the keto diet is possibly too selective to be sustainable. Avoiding carbs for a few months in challenging enough: Could you keep away from them for years? Effective diets aren’t sprints; they’re not even races at all. Rather, truly healthy eating is a lifestyle adjustment you can maintain indefinitely. Sure, there will be cheat days and special occasions that call for indulgence, but a balanced diet should be built to last a lifetime. 

Furthermore, considering your diet alone is an incomplete approach to healthy weight loss. Exercise and healthy eating go hand in hand, and a practical approach will incorporate both. Thankfully, the path to improved fitness can begin with small steps. By modestly increasing your activity over time, you can eventually make great strides. 

In fact, transforming your fitness life won’t even require you to leave home. To learn how home gym equipment can get you moving in the right direction, consult our expert reviews.